The tension could be cut with a knife as Jerusalem District Court President Moussia Arad began to read the verdict in one of the trials of the ages, deciding the fate of former prime minister Ehud Olmert.
Arad’s eyes were down for the almost hour that she read the verdict, not making eye contact with the state prosecutor, whose case she was about to shatter to pieces.
When, about 10 minutes into reading, Arad reached the part of the opinion where she was going to announce the overall outcomes, she stopped, took a drink of water and a deep breath.
There was no sermonizing from the bench about how distasteful or corrupt-looking the case might have appeared despite the verdict. Arad read largely in a monotone, perhaps trying to take the sting out of the bombshell she was dropping on the state prosecutor. Or possibly simply using the monotone as a way to stay calm in a historic moment that could be daunting even for an experienced judge. The other two judges sat essentially motionless next to her throughout the reading.
As Arad announced the series of acquittals for Olmert, an audible gasp fell over the room and several Olmert friends and family members started to cry tears of joy.
The press conference afterward betrayed far more emotion than the anticipatory atmosphere in the courtroom prior to the verdict.
Olmert’s line of lawyers railed at the state prosecutor. Reporters fell over themselves to throw the lawyers more chances to bash the prosecutor’s decision to bring the case, the timing of the case and the handling of the case.
The former prime minister himself had a broad, knowing and truly relaxed smile on his face, likely for the first time in years for a court-related press conference, although he has tried to paste a forced smile on his face throughout.
He did make a real attempt to accept responsibility for the charge of breach of public trust, but this was mainly his time for a victory lap. The essentially insignificant charge of breach of trust was overwhelmed by his desire to state unequivocally that he had done no real wrong and had unjustly been forced out of the highest office in the land.
His quoting of Menachem Begin, saying “there are judges in Jerusalem,” and his statement that the public would hear more from him, appeared to be the beginning of his trying to reclaim his public persona, or at least restore his legacy.
Olmert left the podium before returning to specifically thank his bureau chief, Shula Zaken, and express sympathy for what he felt was an unfair conviction.
One could feel the continued strong connection between these two notable personalities, who have been a deep part of each other’s lives for decades.
Zaken appeared to be somewhat shaken when she first spoke to the press, but after Olmert signaled her out for attention, it seemed clear that his appreciation was the most important verdict for her.
Eli Abarbanel, head Jerusalem prosecutor, was in shock and did not attempt to hide it. He repeated several times that this was not the result he expected. He tried to put on a calm and positive face, delving into the court’s comments about Olmert’s one conviction, but it was clear that he was shaken.
While prosecutors often immediately signal their desire to appeal, Abarbanel refused to address the issue. He appeared to express a clear sense of exhaustion and submission in the face of a trainwreck that had run its course.